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Posts from the ‘Barcelona’ Category


There’s nothing I hate more than a straggler, so my final brief missive from last month’s Argentina vacation must be posted now or it never will see the light of day. And I know everyone’s dying to hear about Basque food in South America.

Despite speaking Español (or Castellano, as they say, you know, just to be different) Spanish food is scarcer than you might think in Buenos Aires. Italian culture is definitely more pervasive.

Burzako is near the San Telmo market, a big Sunday afternoon draw. I’ll admit that I only gave it a quick stroll through because I’m not wild about outdoor markets (I went to Brooklyn Flea for the first time Sunday and was kind of eh about the whole thing, though I enjoyed my slightly pricey Jamaica-flavored shaved ice sweetened with agave syrup from Chida).

I was expecting a more rustic restaurant, but the room was more elegant with white tablecloths and floral arrangements. Being lunch, we only ordered tapas, which I wouldn’t say were particularly Basque. The entrees leaned that way, though.

Burzako langostina croquetas

It’s hard to resist a croquette/croqueta/kroketa (American-approved French, Spanish or Basque, whichever you prefer). These non-oily fritters were filled with a gooey langoustine mixture and topped with an aioli type sauce.

Burzako cheese

I couldn’t tell you everything on this cheese plate, but I’m fairly certain the blue was Roquefort as that was by far the blue cheese of choice in Buenos Aires.

Burzako pulpo

I have no idea why the octopus was so expensive. At around $18 if I’m remembering correctly (there’s no Menupages to refresh my memory) the plate of pulpo a la gallega was pricey. I felt compelled to try it, though. It was definitely tender and I like anything spiked with pimenton.

Burzako jamon crudo

I ate a lot of jamon crudo on vacation. I also drank quite a bit of tinto, and was always surprised at how high they filled wine glasses when ordering by the glass. I’m more value-minded than concerned with my wine being able to breathe so this was a fortunate quirk to me.

Burzako * Mexico 345, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Can Manel la Puda

Paella? “Eh.” My usual reaction. Paella? “Aargh!” The response from the Italian guy sitting near us. Talk about gusto. He maniacally downed his plate of rice in mere minutes, then pumped his fists low and close to the table while briefly shouting like a pirate. I couldn’t help but admire his enthusiasm. He’d spent practically the entire time between ordering and receiving food, explaining how great paella is to the other backpacked, beachy guy sitting across from him. I didn’t even need to understand Italian to figure out what he was talking about.

CanmanelValenica may rule when it comes to this famous dish, but we had to at least try paella once while in Spain. There are countless renditions, but the pervasive style in Barceloneta, the coastal strip of the city, is paella marinara with seafood. Touristy, overpriced restaurants dominate this area. Can Manel wasn’t expensive (€12/$15 per person for the paella), it might’ve been middling, but I wouldn’t have known any better. We were enjoying ourselves despite dining al fresco (something I hate in NYC). The cava and beers probably didn’t hurt our disposition either.

Normally, I’m not crazy about rice dishes that aren’t Asian (a weird bias, I know). I imagined that Barcelona, while not known for its paella, might still outshine anything I’d tasted in the U.S. and this did prove true. I was curious about squid inky arroz negro, which was also on many menus, but no one else seemed to be ordering it. I think 90% of the diners were brought seafood paella. The cooks must be bored to death.

Paella_1 You’re shown the finished paella in the cooking vessel and then it’s taken away and divvied onto individual plates. I did notice some tables kept the pan and were serving themselves like they’d feel cheated if they didn’t witness what was happening to every last grain. I’m not that high maintenance. People were also very fussy about where they were seated. I was just happy in Spain because they gladly offer four-seaters to couples, a practice not practiced here.

The rice was chewy in a good way and the additions were just enough, not excessive. Pieces of fish and squid were plentiful and one giant prawn, a mussel and one cute langoustine (I’d never seen one of these shrunken lobster creatures in the shell) were placed on the side. The overall consistency was moister and oilier than I’ve had in the past. Good oily, not greasy, which seems to be a Spanish hallmark.

Can Manel la Puda * Passeig de Joan de Borbón 60, Barcelona, Spain

Kiosko Universal

KioskouniversalAs I feared, much lauded Bar Pinotxo was a no go at the Boqueria. Not because it’s slim on seating and I fear crowds and tall backless stools, but because it was shuttered for the August “vacation.” Luckily, there are a handful of tapas bars scattered throughout the market and nearby Kiosko Universal was bustling and open for business. As we walked past the counter, two seats magically opened up and I grabbed them.

Then we had the task of trying to decipher the tiny type Spanish menu scrawled on the blackboard over the stoves. I couldn’t make out a lot of the words, but something with garbanzos and spinach jumped out. I love the chickpea and blood sausage recipe from New Tapas: Culinary Travels With Spain’s Top Chefs that was adapted from Bar Pinotxo, so I figured Kiosko might do good things with nubby legumes too. Laced with chunks of pork, the rich, oily vegetable duo made a hearty first course. I then noticed that practically everyone around us had the same dish. It was popular with good reason.

Kioskochickpeas Next, we went the “what do you recommend route” which I never do in NYC because here I know what I want. It was decided that we’d try a mixed seafood plate because that seemed to be their thing and I like surprises. There weren’t any bad surprises in Barcelona (at least not food-wise. Being cut off from the internet for a week because our hotel was in no hurry to fix it was unexpected. I did begin to see the beauty of the Blackberry, though I’m still not ready to give in to a cell phone or PDA of my own).

A few minute later we were presented with what might be the world’s tiniest clams, shrimp, squid, a white fish (I’m not knowledgeable enough to figure out fish types by look and taste) and what I’ve since discovered were razor clams. KioskoseafoodI had no idea they were skinny and wormy like that but was glad to have been introduced to a new shellfish in its most basic form.

I’ll admit to not being much of a “let the food speak for itself” ingredient purist. I like spices and sauces (though I draw the line at Red Lobster cheese on everything madness). Here, I finally got the appeal of simple grilled seafood enhanced by salt, olive oil and parsley. Nothing good can come of creamy honey BBQ sauce on your fish.

Kiosko Universal * Rambla 91, Barcelona, Spain

Cinc Sentits

1/2 I share a cubicle wall with an executive assistant who's been having all sorts of trauma in the past few days trying to organize an off site something or another (I totally don't understand these overblown cushy corporate events masquerading as business) in New Orleans. The trauma stems over a choice of restaurant. The powers that be keep leaning towards contemporary New York style venues, which haven't been very accommodating while the assistant thinks that it would be more fitting to patronize a classic, old school, white tablecloth Creole restaurant since those don't exist here. She asked my opinion and in this situation, I was like go with the classics (really, I would recommend not limiting choices to the French Quarter, but that's another matter).

Cinc Sentits might prompt a similar dilemma. Compared to many of the inventive, playful restaurants in northern Spain, Barcelona's Cinc Sentits is colder and more minimalist. The clean lines and neutrals punctuated with splashes of crimson feels, well, more New York. The family who runs the restaurant are fluent English speakers and smoking isn't allowed. I like Spanish and cigarettes, but this didn't lessen the European dining experience. The ingredients and wines were resolutely Spanish–you wouldn't find these combinations in Manhattan.

I’m going to try and keep this from getting too wordy. I went to town blabbing about Can Roca only because I have trouble being succinct. This time I’ll just jump into the photos immediately and talk later. And no, my memory isn’t that good. I only recall every detail and wine pairing because I had them email me a PDF menu (after all those glasses of wine, it slipped my mind to ask at the end of the meal). I do like how this practice seems to be de rigueur in higher end Spanish restaurants (we received a pretty print out from Can Roca, as well). It would never occur to me to ask for document of what I ate in NYC.

We did the Gran Àpat (chef’s tasting menu) with wine pairings because I don’t trust my own judgment when it comes to the vino.

shot of warm maple syrup, cream, cava sabayon and rock salt
They made a point of saying it was Canadian maple syrup, which James thought was funny for some reason, like that's a mark of quality worth emphasizing. If I'm correct, the chef, Jordi Artal, was raised in Canada so I didn't think it was that weird. It would've been stranger if they'd said Spanish maple syrup.

foie gras with violet marmalade
A different tapa was described in the menu I received so I don't know the finer details.  I do have an aversion to eating flower petals, but I can deal with essences like rose, lavender and violet.

peach gazpacho, extra virgin arbequina olive oil, Forum vinegar glaze
I'm still not sure what Forum vinegar is, but it appears to be a Spanish wine vinegar. I was relieved we didn’t receive a melon soup that I’d read about, which I actually would’ve tried because I hate closed minded diners even more than I hate melon.

foie gras "coca"
forum vinegar-glazed leeks, crisp sugar shell, chives
wine: schmitges riesling spätlese (v.q.a. mosel, germany)

So, I never got the red pepper coca I tried for twice at La Vinya del Senyor. This was as close as I’d get, which I’m guessing isn’t that close at all considering the use of quotes.

galician diver scallop
sweet onion escalivada, sunchoke puré, iberian ham chip
wine: pazo piñeiro albariño (d.o. rías baixas, spain)

Traditionally, escalivada is Catalan grilled vegetable combo. I only learned that this very second.

wild mediterannean sea bass
false shellfish risotto, parsley oil
wine: can feixes chardonnay (d.o. penedès, spain)

I think they mean that the risotto isn't a true risotto. The shellfish aren't false, they're langoustines (I asked). I'm not crazy about parsley (or dill, but that's beside the point) but I love anything so vividly green.

iberian suckling pig
priorat and honey glaze, apples deglazed with ratafía
wine: closa batllet (d.o.q. priorat, spain)

This is one of those sous vide masterpieces. They specifically mentioned that it was cooked at 70 degrees, and I wasn’t sure if they were just telling that to Americans because we have issues with bacteria and this slow boil-in-a-bag cooking method. Inspectors were confiscating sous vide equipment here not too long ago. And people question why there’s so little avant garde cooking in NYC.

This was probably my favorite dish, but I love anything that includes crispy pork skin and is both sweet and savory. Ratafia is a liqueur that is either made with bitter almonds or peach pits, I’m not sure which.

artisanal spanish cheeses
forcam : picota cherry and lemon-thyme salad, cascarral : soft almond cube, valdeón : red wine-poached pear
wine: bàrbara forés dolç (d.o. terra alta, spain)

We were instructed to eat the cheeses and accompaniments left to right, mild to strong. I’m kind of a sucker for rules, so I did just that. The middle one might’ve been my top choice. I do love blue cheese, but it can be mouth-zinging even with a sweet pear slice and glass of caramelly wine to balance the flavors.

textures of lemon
ice cream, cake, curd, and espuma with vodka granizado
wine: chivite vendimia tardía moscatel (d.o. navarra, spain)

I noticed that another couple at the restaurant (as well as people who've blogged their meal) had this dessert paired with Grey Goose vodka. I'm not sure why we got the moscatel and if that's a better or worse choice.  I also noticed that a guy at a different neighboring table had eaten all the goo and left the cake behind. What kind of freak doesn't like cake?

valrhona chocolate "crocant"
home-made nocilla praliné, roasted hazelnut ice cream
wine: noe pedro ximenez (d.o. xérès-sherry-jerez, spain)

I could’ve sworn there was banana in this dessert, though there’s no evidence of that from the description. And all I have is the description to rely on since I ate the whole damn thing before realizing that I’d never taken a photo. I always wonder if others finish every dish when they do tasting menus or if we’re just gluttons. The portions weren't enormous here so I didn't feel bad. (At Blue Hill at Stone Barns, though, we almost died from the massive food intake and probably should've left more bites behind.) I’d been so good about capturing every course up until the very end, too. I blame the wine.

I'm scared that I'm becoming jaded (like last night I had some supermarket prosciutto because I was dying for cured ham and it just tasted salty and dull like those thin Land O' Frost lunchmeats I loved as a kid). When I came back from vacation my supervisor (whose personality is like 85% of the reason why I had to get out of there) who's all trendy restaurant obsessed, asked, "Oh, did they serve things in shot glasses?" "I love it when they use spoons like that. I want to do that at a dinner party" Ugh.

I would declare shot glasses and spoons as totally over (because, you know, I'm very influential in these matters) but I don't honestly think they're ubiquitous country-wide. Oh shit, I just remembered that they were totally mentioned in yesterday's NY Times article, "Tiny Come-Ons, Plain and Fancy " (barf) . It's not until you see a trend adapted at Cheesecake Factory that you know it's five years past its prime. Now the contrarian in me never wants to eat an amuse-bouche presented in either of those forms ever again.

Cinc Sentits * 58 Carrer Aribau, Barcelona, Spain

La Bodegueta

Yes, I love chains in the U.S. (and Canada—go Tim Hortons) but I wasn’t sure if that was the best behavior to indulge in while in Barcelona. And they have enticing chains too. I was fascinated by all the bocadillo shops like Sandwich and Friends (what’s better than friends and sandwiches?), Pans & Company and Bocatta (which we did try on a whim one late night).

After gawking at all the moderniste architecture in the Eixample we wanted a low key lunch, but that strip of the ramblas is like tourist trap central. I scoured one of our guidebooks desperate for a regular, non-fancy, non-fast food option. Mildly hidden on a downstairs corner, La Bodegueta was totally it. (Here’s a photo, not taken by me or anyone I know. I never remember to take shots of interiors or exteriors—I get all caught up in the food.)

Bravas I wouldn’t call it a dive, like I think some have described it. It’s sort of no frills and rickety, maybe more the Spanish equivalent of a faded American diner with a touch of cafe. They did have a three-course menu del dia like I think all restaurants in Spain are mandated to offer during lunch, but we just wanted glorified snacks so we ordered manchego and chorizo bocadillos, halves to be swapped so we’d get a little of each, and patatas bravas to share. Oh, and a bottle of Voll Damm. I noticed a lot of people ordering what I think are called claras. Akin to an English shandy, the drink consists of beer mixed with lemonade. I’m very when-in-Rome, but I wasn’t quite convinced of that beverage.

Bocadillos I’ve noticed that patatas bravas are always kind of different in NYC. I don’t know if there’s a standard in Spain either. My favorites I have had here were from Tia Pol. These came with separate dollops of aioli and tomato puree. The bocadillos were as spartan as can be. The bread is coated with squeezed tomato juice and drizzled olive oil pa amb tomaquet style and then filled with one ingredient. Meat, cheese, whatever, but that’s all, no extras. It’s the anti-NYC deli sandwich in girth, though not completely unrelated in simplicity. Bread, meat mustard is pretty bare bones when you think about it.

La Bodegueta * Rambla Catalunya, 100, Barcelona, Spain

Senyor Parellada

1/2 It would’ve been hard to ignore Senyor Parellada since it’s situated in the ground floor of the Banys Oriental where we stayed. After 9:30 pm there’s a perpetual line to get in (even around midnight when they close) and an unmistakable olive oil and garlic aroma wafts through the lobby, hovering near the elevators where a door opens directly into the dining room. That’s the Spain smell. Hong Kong was punctuated by whiffs of five spice and Malaysia would hit you with wafting shrimp paste. I’m not sure what scent sums up America. Don't tell me hot dogs.

Cod_1We discovered that there’s something a little cruel about Senyor. The menu you’re initially handed (as well as the one in the window) is entirely in Catalan. It’s possible to get the gist of some dishes if you know any Spanish or French, but much of it is impenetrable. I started feeling nervous and squirmy (which wasn't helped by both Italian couples–young and dull on my right and middle aged and frumpy on my left—continuously giving us looks throughout the meal. There's nothing ruder than staring at people when they're eating and I've noticed this behavior before from Europeans in NYC. I don’t know where this stems from, but it’s incredibly off putting. Even if someone’s a midget, missing limbs, or sideshow obese you don’t stare at them, duh) until I realized everyone else in the room had a yellow laminated menu not the colorful paper fold out version. It turned out they have a multilingual menu in French, German, Italian and English (I guess if you’re a strict Spanish speaker you’re shit out of luck).

Duck_2I couldn't help but notice that one group walked out shortly after being seated, though who knows if language confusion was the reason (this also happened with an American couple who walked in off the street at Cinc Sentits, which to me isn’t the kind of restaurant you casually decide to dine at).

To be honest, I don’t know all the classics of Catalan cuisine so I wasn’t sure what to order. Some of the food seemed to have French leanings, some struck me as very traditional. We split an order of toasted bread with pate, jamon and cheese. James tried bacalao with white beans and I had a duck leg with figs. Dessert had to be crema Catalana, a free form crème brulee that the gentleman next to us scarffed down in seconds (I encountered the same gusto lavished on a serving of paella by an Italian the following afternoon).

CremaFrom reading a few pre-vacation blurbs, I had expected the brasserie style restaurant to be smaller, dimmer and dowdier. It’s actually comfortably frenetic, crisp, bright (though obviously not bright enough to take decent photos without a flash–candle light isn't conducive to capturing food digitally) and much more reasonably priced than the atmosphere might suggest. I wish that I could try it again now that I know the routine. Week long vacations just aren’t long enough for seconds.

Senyor Parellada * Carrer Argenteria 37, Barcelona, Spain

Sagardi & Euskal Etxea

Barcelona isn't much of a tapas town. Basque pintxos are more the thing (though San Sebastian is where they really do pintxos up big—we didn’t encounter anything nearly as esoteric as the examples on Todopintxos). It's fairly easy to figure out if you're in for tapas or pintxos. One giveaway that you’re in for the latter is if the restaurant has a seemingly superfluous X in the name (funny, that I ended up in two regions—Wales and Catalan—rife with preserving ancient, hard to pronounce languages). Another tip off is a bar covered with plates of sliced french bread topped with toothpick-speared goodies.

Euskalinside If you’re unfamiliar with the routine (I’m obsessed with doing things the right way and not looking like a retard, which kind of makes me a retard),  the procedure is asking for a plate, then helping yourself to whatever catches your fancy. It’s not a simple as it sounds, though, because these bars are often four people deep. You might get a glimpse or two of something enticing but maneuvering to reach and pick up said snack is an art form I didn’t have time to cultivate. If you’re nimble enough to grab a few pintxos and lucky to be standing in the right spot when something fresh and tasty is brought from the kitchen, you’ll be set. Just don’t toss out your toothpicks after eating since that’s how they tally up your bill. I can’t help but imagine that diners try to beat this honor system at least occasionally, or maybe that’s just the New Yorker in me scheming.

I had my trusty list of restaurants to try and weirdly enough, a good majority of them happened to be in the vicinity of our hotel. I'm not used to such convenience. On most of my few other travels, getting to all the places I wanted to eat took more effort (with the exception of the The Scarlet being practically next door to the Maxwell Food Centre) and usually involved subways not strolls.

The only stumbling block was the August closures (I'm still fascinated how entire European countries can take an entire month off at the same time and the world doesn't explode). Oh, and the overwhelming crowds filling eateries during peak hours. Agoraphobic tapas lovers like me must overcome their fears. I suppose a few glasses of sidra helps the nerves.

Sagardi2 Sagardi wasn't on my list. I put a lot of faith in my list, which is essentially just cut and pasted blurbs from various websites and blogs, but it does the trick. Our strip, Carrer Argenteria, was tourist central, kind of more East Village in vibe with the dense foreigner concentration of Times Square, so I didn't suspect Sagardi to be much of a gem (though perennially packed Taller de Tapas, diagonally across the square was on my list, so maybe my tourist trap theory holds no water). Despite my love of chains, I wasn’t sure if my love extended to European ones.

No matter, we wanted a snack around 5 pm, well before proper Spanish dinner time and Sagardi had open outdoor tables, which are a premium on any night of the week. Of course, only tourists are eating tapas at this hour but I was a tourist so I didn’t care that I was being gauche. I needed a pintxos fix before my real 10 pm dinner.

Sagardi1 I was only going to pick out four items, but really if you’re splitting each morsel in two that’s not tons of food. I didn’t know what I was grabbing, but they turned out to include a cod-potato stuffed pequillo pepper that was breaded and fried, mozzarella, tomato, anchovy and oregano, another with sardines, red pepper and frizzled leeks (I think) and a fourth that I can’t even figure out from looking at the photo, but looks like it contained grated cheese and a paste of some sort gluing it down with something vaguely chartreuse and mauvey—a pickled pepper and squid? That makes no sense. I guess it wasn’t very memorable. Maybe they all had anchovies…I’m confused. James ended up going back for a second round and found ones topped with tomato paste, parsley leaf and anchovy, a simple jamon, sweet cream cheese with blueberry sauce, shredded mint and what I swear was a carrot cookie and one using salmon, dill diced onion.

Euskalout On our last evening I wanted a more authentic experience, so we tried to get to Euskal Etxea early, around 9 pm but the bar and smattering of seats were already taken and a strong crowd was taking hold. We still did OK, and I would’ve stayed longer and had a second drink if it hadn’t been so hot inside. I don’t fare well without air conditioning and this was one of the rare places I encountered during our brief Spain visit that was au natural. Is sweating while eating an authentic Basque experience? This bar is so hardcore that they don't even offer Spanish on their website, the two choices are Basque or Catalan. English? Don’t even ask.

Euskalfood Here, it was tough to survey the food scene fully. I ended up picking a few random treats like one with a cheese (possibly manchego) wedge, walnuts and caramel (I don’t think it was honey, despite that seeming more plausible), one with little poached eggs, cheese and anchovies, and another with sardines and red peppers. I also got a mini croissant with smoked salmon a little later. James got a few non-bread pintxos (they’re not all bread based) like a gazpacho shot and little glass dish containing mushrooms and shrimp in a wine based sauce. We also sampled a fresh from the fryer, cheese croquette, or I guess croqueta. You have to get a jump on the hot stuff.

Sidra, hard cider, is a respectable drink with pintxos. Txakoli, a lightly fizzy, Basque white wine is also an option, but I never had a single glass in Barcelona. I did drink a lot of cava, but not with my pintxos. I had wanted to try El Xampanyet, (X pronounced CH so the word sounds vaguely like champagne when said aloud and makes sense since it’s a cava bar) right across the street from Euska Etxea (yes, it was on my list) but unfortunately, they were victims of the shuttered-up August syndrome.

I was surprised when our toothpicks were added up and we’d only spent €17 euros. I’m pretty sure we spent closer to €30 at Sagardi earlier in the week. I recall their pintxos being pricier, €1.92 each to be exact. Euskal Etxea’s were probably more in the €1.25-1.50 range, which seems more typical.

Pintxos, tapas, whatever you want to call them, make me happy. I used to have fantasies of eating hors d'oeuvres and appetizers for every meal. But it’s a lot of effort and you need a lot of ingredients. It’s not terribly feasible for one person. I guess that’s what the whole small plates hoo ha is about. I just can’t help but feel that that’s a thinly veiled move to get people to spend more and get less. I don’t go for it. Can’t a girl love tiny food and still be thrifty?

Sagardi * Carrer Argenteria 62, Barcelona, Spain
Euskal Etxea * Placeta Montcada 1-3, Barcelona, Spain

La Vinya del Senyor

I'd read in The New Spanish Table and in a Food & Wine round-up (by the same author, so it was sort of like only one very enthusiastic recommendation) about a coca (Catalan pizza, as opposed to Italian pizza, which we ended up eating this same night) with candied red peppers and I loved the idea of it. I wouldn't have necessarily sought it out but the wine bar happened to be just down the street from our hotel.

Vinya_del_senyor_bacalao Totally discombobulated, we stopped by on our first evening in Barcelona. I couldn't figure out the seating etiquette (I'm spastic about following the rules and doing things the right way to the point of annoyance). All of the prime tables out front were taken, as were the stools at the bar. No one was standing like in some tapas places so I couldn't decide how to position ourselves as to not be in the way, but still have a place to put food and drink if we ordered.

Eventually, I mellowed out and ordered two glasses of cava and the coca, which they were out of. Somehow I wasn't surprised, not to be a naysayer, but this typically happens when I have a strict idea in my head about what I want. Vinya_del_senyor_sardinesInstead, we tried bacalao, which came cubed, splashed with olive oil and topped with crunchy sea salt and thin tomato shreds (this was the only actual tomato we ate in Spain. Barcelona is all about the pa amb tomaquet–I love Flickr pools obsessively devoted to single food items–tomato rubbed on bread. I couldn't figure out why the essence seemed more coveted than the flesh) and what I swear was called an anchovy empanada, but turned out to be breaded filets. (I just discovered this afternoon while looking at a Salvadoran menu from Queens that empanizado means breaded, so the words are related). I was just happy to be eating some fish and fresh vegetables after my brief meat and boiled carrots and cabbage stint in the U.K.

On our last night in Barcelona, a mere four days later, we thought we'd do a quick try for the coca again. It was that weird time of night where it's too early to eat dinner in Spain but well past lunch. A lot of restaurants hadn't opened yet, but La Vinya del Senyor seemed to be doing business so we popped in, got a couple cavas and asked for the coca…and were thwarted again. They don't start serving food until 8pm, only cured meats or a cheese plate were available. No wonder everyone had the cheese plate. We got it too. Cheese is great, but I started feeling like god didn't want me having that sugary red pepper coca.

La Vinya del Senyor * Plaça Santa Maria 5, Barcelona, Spain

Even the Escalators Take Their Time

I don’t have a very good response when people ask what I did on vacation because I didn’t really do anything. Maybe that’s the best kind of vacation? Other than paying for meals (which I’ll be documenting in the near future, despite no one I know sharing my enthusiasm for photographing and talking about things I’ve eaten). I barely even bought anything, just some rubber bands (I actually have enough hair to make a pony tail, which feels odd because I haven’t really had hair much past my chin in decades) and a green tea and 90% chocolate bar at Xocoa. But just because I didn’t do shit except eat, walk, sweat and take siestas doesn’t mean I don’t have a few less than stellar observations on northern Spain to share with you.

You can smoke and drink at any opportunity or time of day, duh. Any place and any time is appropriate for cigarettes and a glass of cava. I hate napping, but the siesta concept came in handy after over imbibing in the afternoon. With dinner occurring so late in the evening, it’s easy to sleep, shower and change before going out again and you’re totally refreshed. Too bad that here, having a job gets in the way of this lifestyle.

The 10pm+ dinner thing also was ideal for my favorite vacation past time: first and second dinner. You can eat in the early evening and then again late night. This was also de rigueur in S.E. Asia by eating around 6pm and then going to hawkers near midnight. Of course, no one’s stopping me from doing the same in NYC but two dinners on a regular basis could only end in tragedy.

I could also get used to a constant diet of Spanish food (it’s a nonstop pork fest) but inevitably I would miss tacos, Thai food and bagels. I’m dying for Mexican food this very second and I’m not normally a Mexican food fanatic (though it’s definitely somewhere in my top 5 cuisines). Now that I think about it, our first meal after getting back from Hong Kong last summer was Mexican. Bad Mexican, but Mexican (oh, we ended up at Mezcal’s last night—it’s turning into a post-vacation tradition).

There was a sandwich board near our hotel advertising a Mexican restaurant serving nachos and the like and that's the kind of scary food adventure I'd only be able to justify if we’d had more time to waste. Kind of like how I had to try Thai food in Hong Kong and pizza in Thailand, knowing fully how wrong that was (however, pizza in Barcelona was surprisingly good. Maybe that's not surprising since the foreign accent most frequently heard was Italian, followed by French, German and British. American, not so much. Where do all the Americans go on vacation, anyway? I never seem to see any when out of the country and it’s not like they’re/we’re known for being quiet or discreet).

Mullet_subway_adOk, the mullet. I know you've been waiting. I was completely baffled by the sheer ubiquity of this shlongy (I never hear the SHort LONG nickname these days, and I just now learned about the Kentucky Waterfall moniker) ‘do in Barcelona. Clearly, I’m not the only one—just Google Barcelona and mullet and you'll find all sorts of musings like this and this. I know, you're like aren't there youngsters in most major cities pulling off this same '80s kitsch in the name of style? Uh, no, not like this. I don't get the sense that the typical Spanish mullet wearer is doing so with an ounce of irony. Certainly, Barcelona has more than it's fair share of cool kids, it's that kind of city, but it's laid back, totally Euro and completely un-American in spirit. All of the rat tails, long wispy bits feel organic and natural not electro-clash hard edged. There were countless versions, but they weren't all fashionable and they definitely weren’t only on top of Hispanic hipsters’ heads.

City_worker_mullet The mullet spanned all social groups and ages. There were little kids with long chunks in the back, middle aged women with almost skin head looking hair, all cropped short and bleached with fringes all around the edges, sporty soccer, pardon me, futbol, curly mullets, hippy dread mullets, garbage collector mullets (see left) regular guys probably the equivalent of frat boys with an extra inch or two draped down the napes of their necks. Like I said, it's not always carried off or intended with an air of uber chicness. Our female cashier in the housewares section of El Corte Ingles, which is like the Spanish Macy's, meaning mainstream, not cutting edge, had super short, tight man hair with feathery layers sprouting down the middle of her back. Bizzaro. I can't tell if this is a recent phenomenon, completely new and they never had the original mullet wave of the '80s or if it just never went away. For all I know the mullet craze is totally played out and I was just catching the (rat) tail end.

While I'm on the topic of style, you never feel more American than when you're not in America. Or in Europe, to be more precise. My limited experiences in Asia weren't that incongruous with what you see people wearing in NYC (no, I didn't spend time in rural China or anything). Hong Kong isn't so different. Spain is dizzying. To generalize, I think Asians embrace American culture where Europeans deride it. To generalize even further, it appeared that all men in Barcelona dress like gay men in NYC, or maybe there are just a lot of homos in Spain. All the guys are clad in tight tank tops or sleeveless tees, snug cropped pants or jeans with pockets in odd places and are frequently sockless. And I couldn't tell sexual orientation from mannerisms or vocal affectations either because my rough understanding of Spanish isn’t that nuanced. I’m not still not whether or not some of the bars we were in were gay or not (despite women and hetero couples as clientele, there were packs of men together and I totally couldn’t gauge if they were buddies out and about or interested in each other).

I keep mentioning S.E. Asia, I suppose, because it's my favorite area to visit. If I'd had my druthers that's where I would've been last week so my brain can't help but compare Singapore to Spain despite the two obviously being very different places. Total opposites. This was exemplified by the speed of the two country's escalators. I was thrilled by Singapore's being faster than NYC's even though transplants didn't seem to notice. Spain, where our broken hotel internet never got fixed, no one seems to work, meals last for hours, stores and restaurants close in the middle of the day (you know, many Asian countries have six-day work weeks. I was reading an article in the Financial Times while on the plane about how Korea is loosening up on this and how everyone is spazzing out over too much leisure time and not knowing how to fill it) and their escalators move at a snail's pace. Despite being sedentary and slothful, I do love walking fast. Strollers and dilly dalliers make me violent and it was very hard to suppress this outrage in Barcelona.

So, I hate lollygaggers who waste my precious vacation time, but I love lying on beds and watching TV (it was very disturbing that the B&B in Wales didn’t have the TV in the same room as the bed. I’m not going to crash out and watch bad U.K. sitting in a rocking chair—the only other option in our room). The Spanish news (or at least the channel in our hotel) spent hours and hours just on segments about what residents were doing on vacation. There was like 20 minutes devoted to senior citizens taking siestas at the beach. Oh, my favorite was how restaurants and shops were banning decamisar (sp) (shirtless) and had these stickers with a line-drawn naked male torso with an X through it. I’d been repulsed by the amount of topless men in shorts I’d seen about town, so I was glad to see I wasn’t merely being a prudish American. But I almost shit myself when Threshold, my favorite cancelled show in recent history, came on. There’s nothing like indie dwarf Peter Dinklage speaking in a deep dubbed Spanish voice. They also played Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane, a blip of a bad show that I never really watched, but it did have fatso Sara Rue (who really was fatso in the late ‘90s, not Less Than Perfect fat) playing a fat meanie in a wheelchair.

I totally didn't fulfill my promise to take lots of photos. So much you see is pretty but could be better represented in a postcard, so why bother. And what's truly interesting is hard to capture either because it's fleeting or would invade personal space and I'm not an in your face photographer. I did put up some shots on flickr—just ignore all the family-ish stuff.